Flip a coin 20 times and if it gives heads all the time what will your take be on chance of tails coming the next time you flip it. Depending upon your personality and experience your take will be, sure, probability shows it has to be a tail, or, the coin is biased it will be a heads again and no chance of tails coming. If you don’t directly conclude this, chances are, darker and deep we go into the answer we will converge to one of above outcomes. Most of times we get hand laid on true coins and not the biased ones, even if we get a biased one we don’t toss it enough number of times, so as we get to know its bias or fairness. So are the appraisals, we don’t look deeper into them to really know if it was a fair or a biased one.

Appraisals are one of the big events in our lives as appraisers and appraises. The questions are always asked on the kind of appraisals we do. No matter what effort we put to be fair. But then we have his way of looking at things and my way of looking at things. Biased coins are manufactured by chance and biased humans are manufactured by design. Bias becomes part of our DNA due to large number of factors which are forced upon us due to social networks, the education, our instinct to survive, et cetera. in the process creating bias in our ability to appraise. Apart from bias in our DNA the appraisal processes are defective as well, which make the appraisal biased.

One, the basic premise in the appraisal is wrong. Based on past years experience we try to make a judgment if the subject in question is going to perform next year. The ones who performed well in last year are considered best bet for next year. In dynamic business environment this premise does not hold good. Year to come might just not hold challenges which Mr A could handle well while he handled the challenges with extreme dexterity last year, While Mr B might be just the reverse. Appraising for last years performance might just be a recipe of disaster for organization, its backward looking, and not forward looking. It’s like observing Brownian motion for 15 minutes and then trying to plot its future course on piece of paper, which, by all probabilities is going to be wrong.

Two, the obsession to bell curve is fatal. It makes two tectonic follies, one, it presumes all people can be plotted along the parabolic curve, and two, in 4-5 groups only. Larger the variables we try to measure more accurate the appraisal becomes as the groups become larger in number. One variable gives us only 4 group, two variables will create (on scale of 1-4) 16 groups of people which is fairly small number of groups even in a mid sized organization. Similarly, three variables will have 64 groups which can be created, which might just be enough for a small or mid sized organization. Measuring people on larger number of variables becomes more and more difficult for the appraiser. The combinations and permutations which can be created from 4, 5 and so on number of variables become so large that plotting people along them will be an impossible task.

Plotting people along bell curve, on the other hand shifts our focus to extreme ends of it, the top performers and the worst performers. Top guys are rewarded with hefty pay hikes and worst ones are penalized. What about the people in between? They make 60%-65% of organization. The people in between, if appraised thoughtfully can change organization magically. Increase performance standards of such people and see the top performers being pushed to do even better, else, top performers go unchallenged and the bar is never raised. One way of doing so is increasing the people at the top of bell curve and thus making the list more inclusive and another can be investing more energy and time on the people in between rather than the top ones or bottom ones. This also leaves lot of room for people to get alienated.

Three, the message bell curve gives to the employees is all about maximizing of out comes. When we talk about maximizing outcomes vs optimizing outcomes, optimum is more desirable. Optimizing leads to sustainable and no burnout efforts. Optimizing is more desirable due to its ability to be more inclusive, it defies 80:20 principle, and makes the equation more balanced 20:60:20 (20 each top and worst performers and 60 optimum performers) thus 80% contributing to organization in effective manner.

Four, we don’t appreciate failures. Failure is ability, of being a risk taker, ability of a resilient person and ability of innovator. On contrary a person who failed leaves a lasting negative impression on our minds. This lasting impression continues to seek more negative stimuli from that person and thus impacting his appraisal badly. Absence of culture of appreciating failures big or small makes organization less flexible and less innovating and more intolerant to people who could have otherwise made a big difference to organization.

Five, we are humans and we appraise people. The favorites’, who have more access to us, also become part of our coterie. The mistakes they commit don’t get enough attention when compared to mistakes of that not in coterie. Also, the impression management plays a big role. Impression formation is more about perception than facts. We don’t take enough pain to deep dive into facts, but, we assume few things that are never or rarely correct. It leads to wrong impressions being created and appraisal becoming biased. Impression is one biggest human intervention in appraisal process and we, almost always, get it wrong.

Impressions are formed over a period of entire year; also, informal and biased appraisals take place over entire year. Biased annual appraisals are less dangerous than the biased informal appraisals which take place throughout the year. Annual appraisals have only financial implications, not much of emotional implications. The appraisals which happen informally round the year have more emotional drain than the financial impact. Such appraisals are more damaging if done the wrong way. During such appraisals, appraisers tend to jump the thin line between directing team to organizational objective and personal attacks. Personal attacks can be in form of superior raising voice, using unwelcome language and in course of it, at times, questioning commitment and integrity of employee towards organization. Humiliating employees by using unwelcome words and signals or by questioning their commitment and integrity towards organization is cancer, silently, but surely killing organization.

Mostly, both, annual and informal round the year appraisals are monologues. Subject only communicating with nonverbal signals. These non verbal signals usually are involuntary and true reactions. Such signals, if, deciphered well, can be an important tool for self appraisal of the appraiser and understanding employee perception for organization. Unfortunately, such signals lead to creation of such impression which further biases the appraisal.

Jai Ho.


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